It is extremely difficult to write – or pontificate – about anything other than Egypt these days without losing the reader: several TV networks and newspapers are on the scene twenty-four hours a day both reporting and pontificating. Moreover, this blogger has never set foot in Egypt. Nevertheless, both without pretending to any special expertise and not wishing to summarize news and views already out there, I would like to comment on a few of the truly crucial issues at stake that cannot but affect American national security.
With President Obama, Secretary Clinton and Senator Kerry on the record with respect to the inevitable and timely departure of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose response to the massive popular uprising has been characteristically barbaric, it is now important that the U.S. allow the actors on the scene to resolve their differences while offering whatever support is requested, repeat, requested, not required. The latest reports courtesy of the BBC, Al Jazeera and others indicate that the opposition is coalescing and trying to agree on a joint leadership team charged with negotiating the details of Mubarak’s early exit with Vice President Omar Suleiman.
Most recently cited as potential spokesperson for the people is Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, well regarded in his native Egypt and the region as a whole, while former IAEA Chief Mohamed El Baradei seems to have stepped out of the spotlight he occupied just after his return home. The U.S. must refrain from interfering in any way in the choices made by the opposition. Equally important, any attempt by Washington to exclude the Muslim Brotherhood from the solution would be pointless and is sure to backfire. The one thing that President Obama should make clear is that American economic and other assistance, always intended for the Egyptian people and not any particular regime, will not be affected by the choices made by the opposition.
Much has been made of the consequences for Israeli security and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process arising from the Egyptian chaos and its aftermath. (If no other reason existed for Mubarak’s departure, fully sufficient would be his expression of his fear that his leaving would bring chaos!) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not concealed his support for the Egyptian President, to which Lawrence Davidson rightly replied on “Truthout” on February 3: “ Netanyahu and Mubarak deserve each other. They are both perfectly willing to kill a lot of people to get what they want…. thugs in suits.” And as “Independent” reporter Johann Hari wrote the following day, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are regularly denied essential services by both of these neighboring leaders – whatever the source of their power. These are strong but not undeserved indictments, and the U.S. must not let its traditional strategic support of Israel interfere with its equally important national security interests in the broader region.
As momentous as the events in Egypt have been, political regimes elsewhere in the region and American interests in the countries involved are in for severe challenges in the months and years to come. “New York Times” commentator Anthony Shadid, writing about the fall-out from the Egyptian chaos, put it succinctly on February 2: “Governments of an American-backed order in most of the region have lost their legitimacy, built on the idea that people would surrender their rights for the prospect of security and stability.” It is now incumbent upon America, in open cooperation with its European friends and allies and the forces for democracy and freedom in the region, to demonstrate its conviction that security and stability can be achieved and preserved irrespective of the fate of autocratic leaders
P.S. As I prepare to submit these thoughts for publication, my TV screen reveals that former ambassador Frank Wisner, who had accepted a mission from his government to talk sense to old friend Mubarak, instead has publicly opined that his old friend should remain in place to oversee the transition of power from his regime to the new Egypt, a scenario already firmly rejected by the opposition. The White House, it is reported, immediately distanced itself and U.S. policy from Wisner’s comments, which were clearly contrary to that policy as already announced. A “New York Times” feature article that ran on February 3 left little doubt but that this “distinguished retired ambassador” is a poseur of the first order. We now know in addition that he is untrustworthy and a disgrace to the American Foreign Service.